Fwd: WH Travel Pool Report #3 Briefing

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From: "Landler, Mark" >
Date: September 5, 2016 at 5:11:35 PM GMT+8
To: "Gabriel, Brian" >
Subject: Fwd: WH Travel Pool Report #3 Briefing

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From: Landler, Mark >
Date: Mon, Sep 5, 2016 at 5:11 AM
Subject: WH Travel Pool Report #3 Briefing
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A White House official briefed the pool at the G20 site. Here is an almost-complete report (transcribing was interrupted by laptop screening in advance of the POTUS news conference)


"They focused their discussion on the situation in Ukraine. They reaffirmed the importance of transatlantic unity in pursuing a resolution to the crisis and they welcomed the recent 'school year' ceasefire in Ukraine. They agreed on the importance of maintaining sanctions on Russia until Moscow fully implements its Minsk agreement commitments to which all sides must adhere."

"We agreed to coordinate very closely."

Putin focused on the Ukrainians and the steps needed from Poroshenko.


POTUS met for 90 minutes with president Putin on the sidelines if the G20. That was described as longer than some other discussions on the margins.

They "were really addressing the core issues" regarding Syria and Ukraine.

"President Obama and President Putin discussed efforts to reach an agreement on Syria to reduce violence, provide humanitarian assistance and to focus on Al Qaeda -- also known as Al Nusra and ISIL within Syria."

"Those talks have made progress, including this morning in the meeting between Secretary Kerry and foreign Minister Lavrov."

"In their discussion president Putin and president Obama clarified the remaining gaps in those discussions and they directed Secretary Kerry and foreign Minister Lavrov to see if they could reach an agreement."

The outstanding issues were described as "technical" having to do with implementation of the agreement. "There was some backsliding from some of the recent discussions in Geneva, however I think today there was a narrowing back to essentially , at least where we were coming in to here."

"President Obama and President Putin were not going to get down into the weeds of the language of an agreement and the implementation associated with the agreement."

The official said the US has been focused on insuring that the agreement allows for a "period of calm so that we can get urgently needed humanitarian assistance to populations that are in need."

Getting a cessation of hostilities has been a "focal point."

"We are also discussing what can be done to focus on al Nusra and ISIL."

“We are also discussing what can be done on the political track. They also discussed the transition plans that have been developed by the UN representative Staffan de Mistura." He talked about the possibility of a US-Russia deal providing "momentum" to the political track.

"Secretary Kerry and foreign Minister Lavrov are making plans to meet in the coming days, certainly this week. If an agreement can be reached we want to do so urgently because of the humanitarian situation, however we must insure it is an effective agreement and so that is why we continue to have these discussions. "

They also discussed the situation in Ukraine, the official made much the same points as in Merkel-Hollande meeting about the need for implementation of the Minsk agreements

POTUS "made clear to president Putin that sanctions will continue on Russia if Minsk is not fully implemented. They also had a conversation about cyber issues."

The agreement is focused principally on the objectives I outlined: The reduction of violence, humanitarian access, and how can we focus on alQaeda, also known as al Nusra and ISIL.

However, again we see those as prerequisites for political progress. And on a separate track you have stephan demestduras developing a transition plan. So our hope would be if we’re able to reach an agreement, that can help provide better  environment for progress on the political front.

At the same time, we’re not going to take an agreement that doesn’t meet our objects in terms of humanitarian access and doesn’t allow for the type of moderate opposition that needs to be a part of that political progress.

How characterize meeting?

It was constructive. I don’t want to suggest that they resolved these issues. the reason I say it was constructive is it’s clear now what our respective positions are. And we’ll see in coming days whether on syria we can reach a near-term agreement. If we cannot get the type of agreement we want, we will walk away from that effort.

And I think on Minsk, I think it was important for the president to lay down for President Putin his view so that we can determine whether this is achievable in our remaining time in office. So on these two big issues, it was useful for them to lay out their respective views. But again we have significant differences with the russians on the issues. we won’t know whether they are serious about making progress until we see whether or not on syria they can reach an agreement that meets our objectives. and whether or not on minsk they can demonstrate that they are ready to fulfill their commitments.

So I think there will be a lot of diplomatic work out of this discussion, and we’ll be able to see whether or not there can be a narrowing of the very significant differences that we’ve had with russian policy.

Difference between nurse and al-qaeda

This has been focal point of a lot of our discussion. I think what’s been clear in the past is there’s are times in which certainly the syrian regime supported by russia has painted the opposition with a very broad brush. and what we’re trying to do is make sure focus should be on nusra and ISIL and there are other opposition groups that are more moderate and should be part of the democratic process.

We have concerns about al-Nusara as well though. We have concerns about al-Nusra as well hough. we’re concerned both by their al-qaeda affiliation and by their elements of nurse that have external plotting ambition.

On Laos, the WH official said the bilateral meetings would be historic, the first visit by a U.S. president. The two leaders expected to discuss legacy issues like unexploded ordnance, but also to discuss some of the more affirmative areas of cooperation in development

“Just as we’ve improved relations with Vietnam and Myanmar, Laos is a country that has traditionally been in the past an adversary of the United States,” he said. “But we think there is a lot of potential in that relationship.”

In his speech, POTUS will speak not only to Laos but his Asia Pacific policy over the seven-and-a-half years. He’ll discuss the progress we’ve made in progress in the region, a leading participant in the architecture of the region.

“He’ll discuss the need to approve TPP, which is the centerpiece of our potential leadership in this part of the world and central to our staying power in the region,” the official said.

He said Obama would discuss maritime security issues, US commitment to our values, and he’ll provide a vision of the type of role we’d like to see the US play in the region – one where we’re helping to write the rules of the region.

Obama does not plan to meet separately with Aung San Suu Kyi at the ASEAN summit, though she will be there.

On China and the South China Sea:

WH official said there is a difference with China. “We believe the claims need to be resolved under international law,” and that the tribunal ruling is binding. China has rejected that ruling. “That’s obviously a difference. At the same time, we believe there should be peaceful mechanisms to resolve these issues.”

WH official said US does not expect to resolve these issues at the summit in Laos. But he said Obama would talk to the Southeast Asian countries about the issue.

On North Korea’s latest missile launch, official said the focus on implementing existing UNSC sanctions, but also on isolating

“We want to make sure, broadly speaking, the isolation of North Korea for its actions, but also isolation and interdiction”

On reports of Chinese vessels in Scarborough Shoals, the official said he could not verify those reports

But the official said the US had told China that they did not want to see escalation in the South China Sea.

Mark Landler, NY Times

Andrew Beatty, AFP

William Wan, WaPo


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